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Revolution Within The Revolution: Women and Gender Politics in Cuba 1952-1962-Michelle Chase

23937036The Cuban Revolution has served as a blueprint as a successful campaign for independence from imperialism.   Fidel Castro (1926-2016),  Ernesto Che Guevara (1928-1967) and Raul Castro (1931-) became legendary figures in Cuba and around the world.  Raul is remaining member of the trio and is currently the President of the Council of State of Cuba and the President of the Council of Ministers of Cuba following Fidel’s retirement in 2008. In March, 2016, United States President Barack Obama made a historic visit to the island in an effort to restore severely strained diplomatic relations between the two nations. Time will tell if Washington and Havana continue down that path.

When Fidel Castro died in December, 2016, he joined the ranks among the now deceased leaders from the Cold War Era.  Raul remains carrying the Castro name and the torch of the revolution.  As fascinating as the revolution is, there are many stories that have never been told.  Che’s march in Santa Clara and Fidel’s triumphant march into Havana are typically referred to as the shining moments of the movement.  But upon closer inspection as Michelle Chase shows us, a revolution took place within the revolution. Examining the importance of women and gender politics, Chase shows the revolution from the view of the female revolutionary and the struggle of women prior to and post-revolution. Admirers of the Castro brothers and Guevara might be tempted to believe that the Cuba became a glorious paradise following Batista’s overthrow.  But the reality is that women waged their own battle to achieve equality and a voice in Cuban society.

When we think of the Cuban revolution, we often conjure up the image of the Barbudo, the bearded guerrilla fighter in the jungles of the small Caribbean island.  In truth, behind the heroic figures, were women who saw the revolution as a chance to transform Cuban society and prove that they had just as much courage, will and goals as their male counterparts. To reinforce the importance of women in the effort, Chase revisits the events prior to Batista’s fall as young Cubans began to form resistance groups opposed to the tyrannical dictator supported by the United States.   And interesting, the effort was far more widespread than  the Twenty Sixth of July Movement which is the default resistance group examined in books, magazines and documentaries.   Women participated in this group and many others in the effort to establish a free Cuba.  Their voices and stories come alive in this book to enlighten even the most serious student of the revolution. I found the book to be significant for it touches of a largely unknown topic outside of Cuba.

Where the book shines is in its unfiltered examination of Cuba post-revolution. There is no glorification of Castro here.  We see what was happening and the effect on everyday Cubans.  And without women, there was no way Cuban society could have continued to function.    Also highlighted in the book are the areas in which the revolution was failing its citizens.  Even today, Cuba is still in need of much reformation but is still constrained under the banner of revolution.  We can only guess as to what will happen after Raul Castro leaves office for the final time.   Regardless of how or when he leaves office, it is imperative that we remember the lives and efforts of the Cuban women, who marched, carried signs, put their lives on the line and challenged the establishment.  Today they are grandmothers and great grand-grandmothers.  But there was a time in their lives where they took part in one of the 20th Century’s greatest events.

ISBN-10: 14 le69625008
ISBN-13: 978-1469625003

The Bolivian Diary: Authorized Edition-Ernesto Che Guevara

sddefaultOctober 8, 2017 will mark 50 years since Ernesto “Che” Guevara died in the jungles of Bolivia as he attempted to spread revolutionary ideology throughout Latin America.  The legendary and iconic symbol for revolution around the world became a martyr in the process and to this day, his image can be found on posters, hats, shirts and even coffee mugs.  His final campaign to bring revolution to Bolivia and the tragic fate that awaited him is one of the defining stories of the 20th century.  Guevara, the razor-sharp Argentine intellectual, posed a threat to the dominance of imperialism throughout Latin America and in particular was a deadly threat to the business interests of United States businessmen.  His death brings a sigh of relief to many governments around the world and deals a devastating blow the Castro regime in Cuba.  Che, although no longer legally a citizen of Cuba at that point, is finally returned home 30 years after his death, when he is returned with several other revolutionaries in 1997 and buried in Santa Clara.

Che was known to be meticulous at taking notes and the hundreds of pages of notes he took during the Cuban Revolution and his time in Congo have both been turned into books.  This is the authorized collection of the journal entries he made during this last campaign.  Some of the notes have been withheld by the Bolivian government for unknown reasons but the majority of Che’s notes have survived and are included here.  Introductions by Fidel Castro and Che’s oldest son Camilo are also included, giving the book a more sentimental feeling. In comparison to his prior journals, the notes here are small in number but in them we are able to see the difficulties faced by Che and his entourage as they try to replicated the success in Cuba.  Malaria, edema of the extremities, famine, distrust and various other conditions and ailments plague the group from the start decreasing the chances of success.  But in the face of adversity, Che continues as the master organizer focused on his goal to spread revolution throughout the continent.

Huey P. Newton once said that the first thing a revolutionary must understand is that he is doomed from the start.   Che’s mission in Bolivia bore the markings of one of impending doom, but his commitment to his unwavering goal of eradicating imperialism, compelled him to push forward in spite of dire warnings.  Towards the end of the campaign, he acknowledges the horrendous condition the group is in but we can only speculate as to what thoughts went through his mind as he awaited his fate at the hands of the Bolivian Army and U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.   He left behind a former wife, widow and five children.  His widow Aleida, son Camilo and second daughter Aleida Guevara March have carried on his legacy.  His writings and speeches will continue to remain with us as an example of one of the world’s sharpest minds gone far too soon.  But although he is gone, left behind journals such as this that give us a glimpse into the most critical moments of his life.

ISBN-10: 1920888241
ISBN-13: 978-1920888244

Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life-Jon Lee Anderson

Che 1png October 8, 1967-Ernesto “Che” Guevara dies at the age of thirty-nine in the jungles of Bolivia as he attempts to spread revolutionary ideology throughout Latin America.  He leaves behind a widow and five children.   Since his death he has become the icon for revolution and his image can be found on items such as lighters, coffee mugs, t-shirts,  posters and even the graduation caps of high school and college students throughout the world.  Students of Marxist-Leninist ideology and guerrilla conflict still look to his writings, speeches and quotes as inspiration.   And although 48 years have passed since his death, his name continues to spark admiration, disdain and curiosity.

Recently, President Barack Obama visited Cuba in an effort to repair the strained relationship between two countries that share a long history.  And while the embargo is still official U.S. policy towards Cuba, their meeting did serve as a sense of change for future generations.  I couldn’t help wonder, had Che been with us, what his thoughts would be about the recent developments.  Often seen as the “hardliner” of the Castro regime, the Argentine doctor turned guerrilla fighter was one of the most important participants in the Cuban revolution and a staunch opponent of any form of U.S. aggression and intervention in Cuban affairs.

The more I began to think about Che, the more I realized that I needed to revisit his life story to get more of a sense of who he was and why.  And for those reasons, I took another look at the most comprehensive and extensive biography of Che’s life by author and journalist Jon Anderson Lee.   Che never wrote his own biography but instead penned several books about his experiences in the revolutionary campaign and articles in the journals El Cubano Libre (Free Cuban) and the Verde Olivo (Olive Drab).  His book Episodes of the Cuban Revolutionary War‘ is among the best written about the campaign.   Others have published accounts of their memories of Che with his widow Aleida’s account ‘Remembering Che‘, the most intimate of all.   While he is seen as the icon for violent revolution, the real Che was extremely complex, highly intelligent and fiercely devoted to revolution with unwavering fanaticism in his beliefs of a new Latin America shaped by Marxist-Leninist ideology.

Through Anderson’s writing, we step inside Che’s life and witness the many obstacles and chance encounters along the way that allowed him to become a doctor, author, ambassador, guerrilla fighter, husband, father and unfortunately in some cases, executioner.   The true beauty in this book is its unbiased view of Che’s life and Anderson does a masterful job of being as neutral as possible even in face of some of Che’s least favorable actions, some of which would cause surprise and consternation among many today.  In life, it is always tempting to portray icons of the past in the most favorable light possible.  And although Che’s image has become a commercial success, what we learn in this book is that the real Che was no where close to believing himself a commercial icon and openly showed disdain for capitalist tendencies.

His actions will come under scrutiny for generations to come and his image and likeness will continue to be reprinted and used as a commercial too for entrepreneurs across the globe.  He will forever be loved, feared and hated, and his commitment to communist ideology combined with a fearlessness of using armed conflict are eerily similar to modern-day fundamentalism in various parts of the world.  Nonetheless, he is a critical part of Cuban and world history and one of the most important figures of the 20th century.   Anderson’s biography is the definitive account of the mythical Argentine revolutionary.

ISBN-10: 080213
ISBN-13: 978-0802135582

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